I believe that one of the secret engines that allows cinema to work, and have the marvelous power over us that it does, is the fact that for thousands of years we have spent eight hours every night in a ‘cinematic’ dream-state, and so are familiar with this version of reality.

Walter Murch

First Shoot Day

The real challenge of starting a new project is actually starting the project. It’s getting the proverbial ship out of port and out into the ocean. In filmmaking, that’s the first shoot day. All the pre-production in the world doesn’t actually count as making something. But once you start the cameras rolling, everything changes. Suddenly there’s momentum, there’s movement, there’s proof that you are actually doing something beyond merely dreaming or researching.

Thursday was that day for me. The first interview of my first feature doc is in the can (or on the harddrive). It went extremely well. Alen Auguste is a fantastic communicator and has an amazing story to share.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of this journey with you.

Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read…if you don’t read, you will never be a filmmaker.

Werner Herzog

To Sing or to be a Singer?

Cynthia Than interviewed Jon Westenberg about building a small business. He made an interesting comment:

When you read about the folks who go on X Factor or Idol, they’ll always say that their life long dream is to be a singer. They never say their dream is to sing. And this is because what they really want is the success and the lifestyle and the glamour of being a singer. That’s why they’re jumping in front of a camera. If what they really wanted was to sing – they’d be out there every night playing gigs and building an audience and doing what they love.

I think this is so very true for filmmakers. Lots of people want to be in video production because it looks glamorous or cool or fulfilling. None of which is especially true – the hours are long, insecurity rampant, and satisfaction fleeting.

If you want to become good at this craft you need to be ok with making stuff before there is an audience for it. And I say this more to myself than to you.

Don’t be a director – direct; don’t be a director of photography – shoot; don’t be an editor – edit.

Make something small, then rinse and repeat. A small audience that loves your work is always better than a large audience that is just filling their time. The 1,000 fan theory is true.

Paradise Lost

Sidetracked has a glorious article and short film about ultra-distance runner Anna Frost, about finding home, identity, and joy.

“Somewhere I had learned that I wasn’t enough, and running had become the thing I had created for myself. So running was who I was. And that’s not right.” – Anna Frost

Final Cut Express

I shot my first proper video project in the summer of 2003. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, and the results were less than stellar. But it was enough to send me in a new trajectory.

The project was a fundraising video for a school. I spend ten days in India shooting with just a rough idea of what we were trying to accomplish. I shot some interviews and b-roll. But I had no idea how it was all going to fit together. I was learning as I went.

Once we got back to the States, I immediately purchased Final Cut Express. Final Cut Pro had just been used by Walter Murch to edit Cold Mountain, and Express was the stripped down version. At just $300 it had 80% of the features of Final Cut Pro. More than enough for what I was doing.

For six consecutive Mondays, I would drive from Denver down to Colorado Springs and spend the day editing on the non-profit’s Mac. I only understood two tools: the pointer and the blade. It was painful, but it worked. We wrapped up the project in time for the board of directors meeting, and they loved the video.

There’s no way I could have completed that project without Final Cut Express. It was affordable, accessible, powerful, and polished. Final Cut Pro X is not the same. I’m not sure there’s anything quite like Final Cut Express today (maybe Hit Film?). So, hats off to the original Final Cut development team. You created a gem.

“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

Kelly Marcel & Sue Smith

Film as Startup

There’s a lot of overlap between the video and tech industries. Both industries chew through hardware, software, and data. We might be the only two industries that are comfortable with updating firmware, or for that matter, even know what firmware is.

I came from the IT industry, and I still follow app developers and tech industry culture. I’ve admired John Saddington for quite a while. He’s an entrepreneur who has launched and sold a bunch of companies. He recently wrote an article about starting his latest venture: How to Start a Company in 72 Hours

What struck me were the similarities between starting a company and launching a new movie, tv show, or – even better – a web show. Ideas are plentiful. The real challenge is putting them into action. A lot of those early tasks are the boring building blocks of business structure, culture and marketing. If you can just push through a long weekend getting those things done, you can build a lot of momentum – and building momentum early can help sustain you through the deep valley of making the thing you set out to make.

I remember when I decided to start on this documentary project. The initial brainstorming sessions were great. But I didn’t follow through and build the momentum to continue into production. Now I’m having to spin everything up again, and it’s kind of like walking through knee deep mud.

That’s one thing I appreciate about the 48 Hour Film Project – there’s not enough time to get bogged down. It works better if you have some systems worked out ahead of time, but when it comes down to it you just have to go as fast as you can.

So I’m taking a page from Saddington’s playbook, and I’m setting up the systems that should have been set up back in April or May. Whatever, better now than not at all.

(Image by Jannik Selz via Unsplash)


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